Richard West to Thomas Gray, [c. January 1739]
IMITATION OF HORACE. Lib: I: Ep: 2:
Trojani belli scriptorem, &c:
While haply You (or haply not at all)
Hear the grave Pleadings in the Lawyer's Hall
Or, while You haply Littleton explore,
Turning the learned leaden Pages o'er;
Think me again transported to peruse
The golden Rhapsodies of Milton's Muse:
Who shews us in his high Seraphic Song,
What just, what unjust, what is Right, what Wrong,
With Sense at least, & Evidence as true,
As all our Judges of the Bench could do.
Why thus I think (to Hardwick no Offence)
Give Ear, & with your Coke awhile dispense.
The Tale disastrous You remember well,
How Satan tempted, & how Adam fell;
And how He tasted the forbidden Tree,
Seduced by female Curiosity;
How thus our Paradise we lost, & all
The Children perish'd in the Father's Fall.
Nor be that other Tale forgotten here
More moral, tho' less pleasing to the Ear
How in the Desart Wild with Hunger spent
Full forty Days our patient Saviour went.
Then spurning back to Hell the wily Fiend
Taught us on Heaven (Heaven only) to depend,
Hence us redeem'd at our Messiah's cost:
The Cross regaining, what the Apple lost.
Thus, while I read our Epic Bard divine,
My Mind intent with Pleasure Use to joyn,
From either Poem this Instruction draws,
To trust in God, & to obey God's Laws.
Enough of Sermon: I perceive, you nodd.
You think me mighty wise, & mighty odd:
Your Lips, I see, half verge upon a Smile–
Dear Sir, observe the Horace in my Style.
Just such to Lollius, his misguided Friend,
He knew with decent Liberty to send
Beneath the Critique dext'rous to convey
Advice conceal'd, in the best-natured Way
But You're no Lollius, and no Horace I:
Here is no Room sage Maxims to apply.
Would you not burst outright to hear me say
Satan, my friend, may lead the best astray;
By Nature ill, by Habit worse inclined,
Add Pride, add Envy, add the willful Mind
Still prone to disobey & to deceive,
All men are Adam, & all women Eve.
Thus bad, thus all corrupted, much I fear,
Morality sounds painful to the Ear.
The Dogs of Night, that murder & that steal,
Outwatch the Watchmen of the publick Weal:
Fools, that We are! less Labour to employ
To save ourselves, than Villains to destroy.
Suppose your Body sick; at any Price
You run to Mead or Hollings for Advice:
This for thy Body: but suppose thy Mind,
For that what Mead or Hollings will you find?
Rise, Sluggard, rise, & quit thy Morning-Bed
E're yet Aurora lifts her rosy Head:
Take Plato down, take Tully, take Bruyére,
Make honest Things, & Studies all thy Care:
At sight of Industry Vice flies away,
As Spectres vanish at the Face of Day.
If ought offensive to the Eye appear
Not long You let the Object be too near:
What hurts the Mind more patient to endure,
For Years together we delay the Cure.
Meanwhile the Time irrevocable flies:
Begin, & have the Spirit to be wise:
Begin, nor do, as did the Rustick Ass
Who stood, & waited till the Stream should pass:
The Stream, Poor fool! You little seem to know,
Flows, as it flow'd, and will for ever flow.
The gay Town-house, the pleasant Country-Seat,
The fertile Meadow, & the Garden neat,
The fruitful Nursery, the tender Wife,
Are Joys Men almost value with their Life:
Yet all these Joys, and more (could more be sent)
Make not the Total of one Word, Content.
Not all the Gold of the Peruvian Mine,
Not all the Gems that blaze beneath the Line,
Can cure a Fever, or one Care expell:
Possessions make not the Possessour well.
The Man, who lives in Hope, or lives in Fear,
In nougt He has can tast the Joy sincere:
Sooner shall Handel give the Deaf delight,
And Rafael's Pencil charm the Blind to Sight.
First cleanse the Vessel, e're the Wine you pour;
T'will else be Vinegar, & Wine no more.
Obvious to Sense the Allegory lies:
Would you be happy, be but only wise.
Reject all Pleasures of the Sense: they're vain.
Each Hour of Pleasure has it's Hour of Pain.
Bound thy mad Wishes; fix on something sure:
The Harpy Avarice is ever poor.
May none but Vilain's, be with Envy curst!
Of all the Vices 'tis the Vice the worst:
Scarce all the Tortures of the Damn'd in Hell
The Pangs of wretched Envy can excell.
Sore shall He smart & most severely pay,
Who lets his Passion o'er his Reason sway:
Oft, to his Scorn, shall his unguarded Rage
Act o'er the Part of Cassius on the Stage
Reprove his Friend, upbraid, insult, resent,
Rave like one wild, grow sorry, & repent.
Oh, if you'd live in gentle Peace with all
Restrain the boiling Fury of thy Gall:
Oh! early wise it's growing force restrain;
Like the Steed, curb it: like the Lyon, chain.
Youth, Youth's the Season for Instruction fit.
The Colt's young Neck is pliant to the Bit.
The young Hawk listens to the Master's Sound,
The Whelp unlash'd was never yet a Hound.
Now, Boy, 's the time. my gentle Boy, draw nigh:
Come with thy blushing Front, & open Eye
Now, while thy Breast is, as the Current, clear,
Unruffled, unpolluted, & sincere:
Now fair & honest all thy Hours employ,
For know, the Man is grafted on the Boy.
The Cask once season'd keeps the Flavour long.
Adieu! thus ends my moralizeing Song.
Abrupt I finish: my hard Task is o'er:
Forgive me, Pope! I'll imitate no more.
- Gray and his Friends: Letters and Relics, in great part hitherto unpublished. Ed. by Duncan C. Tovey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1890, section II, 119-123
- Correspondence of Thomas Gray, 3 vols. Ed. by the late Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley, with corrections and additions by H. W. Starr. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971 [1st ed. 1935], letter no. 58**, vol. i, 95-99